Practicing Emotional Awareness

By Kelly Burch

Life is full of emotional ups and downs. You may walk into the cafeteria or dining hall frustrated about an exam result, but soon feel elated when your crush slides into your table. You may get angry that a friend is being stand-offish when they’re really just struggling with something that has nothing to do with you. 

Noticing, recognizing, and understanding emotions can make navigating day-to-day life easier. Emotional awareness—being conscious of your feelings and the emotions of people around you—can give you a sense of control over your feelings and interactions rather than being swept into a dramatic story that may not be true. 

Just like study habits and healthy finances, emotional awareness is a skill you can practice and improve over time. Here’s how to start.

Practice Noticing Your Emotions

Begin by noticing how you feel at different points throughout the day. Designate a few times a day—in the morning, midday, and evening—to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling. 

Practice naming your emotional state or try using a mood-tracking app such as DailyBean, Moodfit, or How We Feel to record your state of mind. Eventually, you may notice patterns you can use to better understand your feelings. 

Maybe you’re less likely to feel stressed after getting a full night’s sleep or less irritable when you don’t skip meals.  It’s normal to feel many emotions at once, such as excitement, nervousness, and doubt before a date. Emotional awareness is like a muscle, so the more you practice using it, the stronger it will get.

Try to Notice Others’ Emotions

Once you’ve made a habit of checking in with yourself, start to notice the emotions of people around you. It’s trickier than it sounds, so try these tips:

  • Don’t assume you know how someone is feeling. 
  • Pay attention to body language and facial expressions. They can show you when someone is feeling tense or sad, even if they say they’re not. 
  • Or try the opposite: Close your eyes and listen. Some research shows that people are better at identifying others’ emotions when they’re not looking at the person. 
  • Just ask. When you’re really not sure how someone is feeling, it’s OK to ask them. 

Understanding others’ emotions can make your relationships easier. There’s no sense proposing a schedule change to your study partner when they’re already stressed about an upcoming test, or asking your boss for a day off when they’re angry about a coworker’s behavior. Noticing how others are feeling will make you a better communicator and help you build empathy and avoid conflict.

Share Your Feelings With Others

Once you’ve practiced naming emotions—yours and other people’s—it’s easier to talk about those feelings. Being open about emotions can feel scary at first, but it also helps create connections and build stronger relationships. Talking with others gives you the chance to challenge your perspective, especially if you and the other person have different reactions to the same situation.

Start by sharing your emotions with someone you trust, such as a significant other, roommate, or friend. It can be as simple as saying something like,“I’m so frustrated because I thought that exam was really unfair. We never covered the material!” Your classmate may agree with you, giving you validation, or they may point out that the exam questions were covered on a day you were late to class, gently adding important perspective to your feelings. Examining, comparing, and discussing emotional reactions can help you relate more thoughtfully to others and better understand yourself.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.